The Hope of Optimism

Question, “In today’s world, it’s so hard to be optimistic. Is it even possible anymore?


I certainly believe it is.

One of my favorite stories goes something like this. There were once two boys; identical twins in fact---Jason and Peter. From the day they were born, they were anything other than “identical.” Jason was born an optimist and Peter was a pessimist. No matter what happened, Jason saw the positive side of life. He was usually happy, easily satisfied, and he saw the possibilities in every situation. As positive as Jason was, his brother was equally negative. He was rarely satisfied, usually unhappy and, regardless of the situation, he predicted gloom and doom.

Needless to say, the boys’ parents were very concerned about Peter, for as hard as they tried to treat the boys equally, Peter was always unhappy.

With nowhere else to turn, the boys’ parents turned to a local Psychiatrist. After a great deal of thought, the good doctor had what he felt was a brilliant, “sure thing” solution. His suggestion was this. He said, “You know the holidays are coming. Here’s what’s going on, and here is my suggestion. Obviously, Peter feels that you favor Jason and that you give more to him than you do to Peter. So, what I want to do is to fill up Peter’s room with as many toys as you possibly can---all the greatest stuff. Then, and this is going to be hard for you to do, I want you to fill up Jason’s room with horse manure. Then what’s going to happen is that Peter is going to finally feel that he is the favored one—and thus, he will be happy. Obviously, this will hurt Jason, but he is strong and will get over it.”

Well, the parents were stunned by what seemed like an odd suggestion, but they were desperate and decided to follow his instructions.

Then, the morning arrived. As crazy as it was, the parents had done what the Psychiatrist recommended. They darted down the hall to Peter’s room, hoping to see him excited and happy for the first time. But when they opened the door, they were sadly disappointed. Peter was miserable. He was complaining about the toys and moaning and groaning about how they weren’t “the best.”

The parents then went down the hall to Jason’s room, expecting to see him very unhappy and depressed. They loved their son so much and didn’t want to hurt him, but they were just following instructions.

Well, they were stunned when they opened the door. Rather than acting depressed, Jason was throwing the manure all over the room. He was happy and excited and yelling out, “Whoopee!” When he saw his parents, here is what he said. “You can’t fool me mom and dad. With all this horse manure all over the place, there has to be a pony in here somewhere!”

The moral of the story is that optimism comes from within ourselves. We tend to find what we’re looking for, so if we want to be optimistic, we really do have the power to do so. And, when we are optimistic, we are generally happier people.

The Principles of a Happy Life

It wasn’t until about 25 years ago that I realized how simple it really is to be happy. Notice I didn’t say it’s always easy—although it often is that too! What I have discovered is that virtually anyone, by learning about five simple concepts, can become much happier than ever before. I don’t mean happy “all time,” but most of the time for sure, and even when we lose our way, it’s pretty simple to guide ourselves back in the right direction.

Let me introduce five simple principles from my book “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” very briefly here.

1) The first principle is that of “thought.” In short, our ability to think creates our psychological experience of life and most importantly, thinking is a voluntary function. In other words, we produce the thoughts---we think them up! And, with no time in-between, we feel the effects of those thoughts. That’s why it’s so critical to be aware that you are the one producing and thinking your own thoughts.

If you ever tried to scare yourself with your own voice, you’d be out of luck. Why? Because, very simply, you’d always be one step ahead of yourself----you’d know it was you who was saying “boo.”! By becoming aware that we are the producers of our own thoughts, we can have a similar insight. We will always have thoughts to contend with, but once we realize that we create and produce them, it’s pretty hard to be freaked out by them. Instead of bumming ourselves out or getting angry or scared, we simply say to ourselves, “Whops, there I go again,” reminding yourself that you’re having what you might come to call a “thought attack.” If you have any type of thought and know it’s “just a thought,” and it’s stemming from inside of you, it’s easy to drop it, and bring yourself back to this precious moment.

2) The principle of moods is incredibly simple. When we’re in a “good” mood, life generally looks pretty good. But when we’re in a “bad” mood, the same life (and that’s the key)! The exact same life looks drastically different. All of a sudden the partner you were so in love with is problematic, the car you drive doesn’t look so good and your future looks less than promising. But how can this be? While in a good mood, you’re totally in love, the car you drive is absolutely fine and your future looks great. I could give a hundred other examples, but I’m sure you get the point. Your life doesn’t change-----only your mood does. Knowing this changes everything. When you’re down, you feel it and you make allowances for it. You don’t take your own thinking very seriously at all. Instead, it’s a waiting game. You wait until your mood returns to a better state and then you think about your problems. Same with other people. You begin to recognize when someone is in a low mood and when they are, you don’t take what they say and do very seriously. It’s really that simple. Everyone is subject to moods and when any of us are in a low mood we will say and do things we wouldn’t even consider while in a better frame of mind. Knowing this is a huge advantage. You learn to make allowances for others and their moods---and you get used to the expression, “But for the grace of God, go I.”

When you do suppose most people discuss their problems? While in a low mood of course, because that’s when life has a sense of urgency. But ironically, you can't solve a problem when your low because you have lost your wisdom, common sense and happiness. But when your mood rises, you’ll have your wisdom back and life will look good again! I used to tell couples about this trick all the time and, frequently, one of the partners’ would say to me, “But Richard, if we waited until our mood rose to discuss our problems, it wouldn’t seem like we had problems to discuss.” “That’s the point,” I would say.

3) The third principle is called Separate Psychological Realities. Essentially, this means that because we all think uniquely, we each live if a separate psychological reality. This one is easy to apply. All you have to do is expect, rather than be surprised or disappointed when someone disagrees with you or can’t see things your way. Of course they can’t!

4) Fourth is the principle of feelings. This is probably my favorite and is certainly the simplest. Essentially, all you have to do is pay attention to your feelings. Then, depending on what you are feeling, you use that information to guide you as to what to do. For example, if you’re angry, instead of “thinking” about why you’re angry, you use the angry feelings to remind yourself that you’re a little off base, because again, your goal is to be happy. You must be thinking angry thoughts or you would be having different types of feelings. Your feelings, positive or negative, are not “bad,” they are simply information and they are foolproof in letting you know where you stand and what needs to be done.

5) The last principle is to live more of our life in the present moment. By using our feelings, we can tell when our mind is drifting away from this moment—which is so common in today’s world. But as you bring your attention back to just this moment, you’ll begin to feel the joy of each precious moment of life. When you’re bothered or irritated, it will usually be because you’re thinking about something that is already over or something that is yet to be. Practice bringing your attention to the here and now and you’ll be one of the happiest people on earth! Life is a magical adventure when you are right here to enjoy it!


A Golden Pause (Take Five) By Richard Carlson

Kris and I attended a life changing weekend meditation seminar a few years ago in Oakland, California. The highlight of the seminar was a series of short, unannounced breaks the organizers called “Golden Pauses.”

These pauses, which took place approximately every hour and a half or so, lasted five or ten minutes and were wonderfully received by everyone in the room. First, a pleasant little bell would ring, signaling the beginning of the break. All at once, everyone in the room — hundreds of us -- became suddenly calm.  We ceased all conversation and dropped everything we were doing.  We were instructed to sit in comfortable positions and to simply relax.  It was a time to be still, quiet and calm--a time just to appreciate about the fact that we were alive.  Our only remaining instructions were to breathe and to focus on the beauty of the breath.

Whenever Kris and I go to a workshop, we try to take something with us that will hopefully stay with us forever. The idea of Golden Pauses has stuck like Velcro! We have found that Golden Pauses have the power to make the most impossible day manageable, giving us the perspective we need to get through it. Many times, I have been angry or irritated at someone on returning home from a long plane trip or just feeling beat up and tired and Kris will smile at me and say that it’s time for a Golden Pause. We “pause” for just a few minutes, but this little break invariably interrupts my negative thinking and readjusts my mental attitude. It’s such a simple, yet powerful way to change the course of a day.

A Golden Pause takes any day you feel tired or irritated day and infuses it with positive energy. For me, it’s a plane trip that can put me in a bad mood, for others I know it’s a long commute, or a hard day at the office. A five-minute Golden Pause (or even a two-minute pause if that’s all the time you have) usually reverses all of that negativity and then some.

But you don’t have to be tired or irritated to benefit. A Golden Pause can even make a day that’s already wonderful even more glorious! Often, Kris and I are having a completely peaceful day already yet one of us will suggest a Golden Pause just to “remember” and appreciate the joy we are feeling. The pause reinforces and deepens feelings we are already having.

I once mentioned the concept of Golden Pauses during a lecture on the East Coast. Several months later, I met a man at another lecture in Las Vegas who had been in the East Coast audience that day. Steve came up to say hello after my speaking engagement in Las Vegas and shared with me the following story.

Steve referred to himself as having been an “over-reactive hot head.” During a particularly stressful period of time in his business, someone took advantage of the lack of business experience on the part of one of Steve’s employees. He said that when this happened, he was about to “lose it.” I asked him what “losing it” was likely to mean for him. Steve explained that it may have meant a physical fight, a lawsuit, or a very least, a huge embarrassing scene in front of lots of people.

But in that moment of great stress, he said, some part of him suddenly remembered the notion of the “Golden Pause.” Why he chose this instant to give it a try, we’ll never know, but he did! Instead of losing it that day, Steve imagined a tiny bell ringing, signaling the beginning of a Golden Pause.

He sat down comfortably and began paying attention to all that he had to be grateful for. His mind became clear of negativity. His body relaxed and he felt calmer. He started to breathe in and out several times and to appreciate the gift of breath. According to Steve, the entire Golden Pause went on for about 5 minutes, at which time he imagined a bell ringing again to signal the end of the break.

When it was over, he said, his body language was entirely different. He was relaxed and calm. The furthest thing from his mind was to fight with or sue someone.

I often practice a Golden Pause several times a day, usually when the day seems to be speeding up too quickly or when life seems to be wired too tightly, but often when things are going just fine, too. Golden Pauses have a way of transforming my relationship to the world. Once the pause is over, I see the world and everyone in it quite differently. It’s like stepping into a temporary place of euphoria where everything is more peaceful. When you step out, much of the benefit stays with you.

A Golden Pause might take only a few minutes of your time -- five to ten minutes at absolute tops -- but the change in you will be substantial, quantifiable and lasting.

So give the Golden Pause technique a try. It’s easy to implement, very relaxing, and can be done virtually anywhere. They only take a few minutes, yet Golden Pauses alter your entire perspective on life, teaching you the value and wisdom of a calm, quiet mind. Golden Pauses are one of the highlights of my day. I hope they will become so for you as well. In fact, why not begin right now? Ding!

Published in 2006 in a newspaper column also a book: “Easier Than You Think” by Richard Carlson

Question #1)  I’ve been thinking about “impermanence,” the idea that nothing lasts forever.  Quite frankly, it’s a little scary.  Can you offer some advice on how to look at this in a more positive way?

Richard’s answer: Actually, there are two very positive aspects of the law of impermanence and, when reflected upon, they make our lives richer, more fulfilling, and even easier.  The first is that it reminds us, as you say, that nothing lasts forever.”  And while this can be interpreted as negative and sad, it’s actually good news! In other words, when something is going wrong in your life, or when you are experiencing pain, it will always, 100% of the time, pass away.  Knowing this is extremely comforting.  Since there are no exceptions to this rule, there is no need to live in a state of panic or fear. Instead you can learn to relax a little which makes your life a whole lot easier.

The second important aspect of impermanence to remember is that, without it, it would be much more difficult to remember to be consistently grateful for the gifts in our lives.  Think about how different life would be if nothing ever changed?  What if your children never grew up and moved away?  What would motivate you to cherish every moment?  What if you, yourself, never aged?  Wouldn’t it be harder to be grateful for the gifts of youth, vitality and vibrant health?  If you think about change in a slightly different way, you’ll see that it’s there, not to frighten you, but to make your life even more special than it already is.  So embrace change as it arises.  Your life will be easier and more nourishing than ever before.

Richard Carlson

Called to Succeed: by Richard Carlson

Richard was asked the Question for his newspaper column: What is your definition of success? And, what is the key to success in your eyes?

My own definition of success is very different from many other people. It’s based on two aspects. First, is the aspect of service. As Arthur Ashe put it so beautifully, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” A successful life is one where we find our own unique way of sharing our gifts with others. Whether we end up teaching, working with little kids, or elderly people, someone who is handicapped, or helping others to read, or if we enjoy writing as I do, or speaking, or doing something in the legal field, or business community, or running an ethical business that treats people fairly, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not really what you do----it’s how you do it. Does it come from your heart? If it does, then you’re a success in my eyes.

Secondly, I define success as doing something you absolutely love to do; something you would do for free, if you could possibility afford to do so. I know I love writing, for example, because, it’s what I do for fun, even when I know that no one is going to read what I’ve written. I wrote for years with virtually no compensation, getting up early in the morning, often at 2 or 3 A.M, to write. I absolutely loved it. The fact that, eventually, I was published, was a bonus, and was very lucky, but the love of writing was what was calliing me. To me, success means you get to earn a living at something you love doing and you are giving back to others in the process.

Richard Carlson

Small Change

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of my favorite things to do is to take a break from my office at lunchtime and head down to the harbor, where I can sit and watch the sailboats dart back and forth on the open water. I’ve always been intrigued by their beauty and precision.

A striking thing about sailboats is how the slightest movement in the rudder or wheel creates an enormous impact in the direction and, ultimately, the destination of the vessel.  Imagine, for a moment (we can all dream!) attempting to sail from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. If you happened to drift just five degrees off course, you could end up thousands of miles from where you wanted to be, lost in the middle of the ocean or on another continent instead of gliding into a beautiful tropical bay.

But by making just a small, yet critical adjustment in the steering of your boat, you’d be able to get back on course with very little effort. In fact, making small corrections as you go is a big part of the skill involved in sailing.

Making small changes that bring great rewards to your life is what this book is all about.  Really, none of the “mistakes” all of us tend to make in our lives needs to lead us off course. Mistakes are not mistakes unless we fail to catch ourselves making them. When we recognize that we’re taking a wrong turn, it really is all good, because with just a few simple adjustments in our behavior, thinking, attitude, or spiritual understanding, our lives improve exponentially. Often just a simple reminder to ourselves, a slight alteration in our breathing, or even a thoughtful gesture can make a world of difference in the quality of our lives.  

Over time I’ve zeroed in on those areas of life where we can get the most “bang for our buck” so to speak, where just a small amount of effort results in a large payoff.  The suggestions I make for change are based largely on common sense, the wisdom of what I’ve seen work for others, what has worked for myself, and on the feedback I’ve received from thousands of readers over the years.  These are little lessons I continue to work on in my own life, each and every day.  

Of course, we’re all human, and we all fall short at times, but you’ll soon see that by making surprisingly subtle shifts, you really can turn a bad habit or a faulty thought pattern into a far more positive experience, for yourself as well as for others.  It’s been said that, “Life is a series of mistakes, one right after another, with a little space in between.”  Maybe so, but within all of these mistakes exist incredible opportunities to create miracles in our lives, opportunities to grow, to learn, to break free of destructive habits and move to new levels of awareness.

Just as there’s often such a fine line between winning and losing in sports or business, there’s also a fine line between leading a stressful, frustrating life, versus leading a life that we’d consider good.  The difference lies not so much in making drastic life changes, but rather in seeing where we’re off course, just like a drifting sailboat, and then gently pointing ourselves back in the right direction. 

Happiness as a Priority


By Richard Carlson

It’s always been interesting to me that the average person (go ahead and ask them), spends ten times (or more) the amount of time watching television than he or she does even considering happiness.  In fact, in one poll that I conducted, not a single person out of more than 30 people admitted to spending even one second thinking about how they might go about becoming happier!  Some of these people spent anywhere from 2-7 hours a day in front of a television set, yet not one minute contemplating what could amount to the most important question of one’s life—how can I be happier?  One of the first rules of any venture is that in order to get somewhere, you need at least a general idea of how to get there and, at very least, where you are going!

We’re really lucky in a way as learning to be happy is a very easy thing to do.  In fact, happiness is our natural state.  If left to our devices and if we could find a way to stop interfering with the flow, we’d be extremely happy right now. So while life did not come with a instruction book on happiness, it really didn’t have to.  By following some really simple principles and also knowing how to get out of our own way, we can become extremely happy, regardless of our present circumstances.

Most people would agree with the notion that when a baby is born, he or she is a fairly clean slate.  In other words, they aren’t vicious, reactive, judgmental, dissatisfied, prejudice, jealous, or angry.  Instead, they are simply little beings who are curious and open to learning.  Unfortunately, most of the time they eventually learn some pretty negative thinking which leads to some pretty unhappy times.

We are taught that our thoughts are real and that we should pay attention to them.  Problem is, they aren’t real, they are just thoughts.

Think of a time when you were, say, driving home from a baseball game and on the last play of the game, your favorite player, dropped an easy ball and blew the game and the season for your team and all the fans, you being one of them.  You’re now in the comfort of your own home and the outcome of the game is brought up by other members of your family.  You start to think about the dropped ball and you start to get depressed. You launch into a lecture about how the team needs new outfielders!  Yikes, it’s happening all over again!

It’s as if the dropped ball is happening all over again in your living room.  As you think about it, you get more and more distressed, after all, you rationalize, he “did” drop the ball!

That’s true he did drop the ball.  But let me show you how easy it is to dismiss that thought now that the event is over.  You’re about to see that while the unfortunate event did occur, it’s now only a harmless thought with no power over you other than that which you give it.  And once you realize this, happiness will be moments away.

Have you ever been driving and some other driver nearly knocks you off the road---maybe even comes within a foot or two of killing you?  It’s happened to me a few times in the almost 30 years that I’ve been driving.  Whether it has ever happened to you or not, pretend for a minute that it did.  Imagine the thoughts that would be running through your mind while you were still heated.  I can imagine the thought “I should kill that guy,” being one of your thoughts, or something similar, relating to some sort of revenge.  Now the question becomes, “would you do it?”  I mean it.  Would you kill the driver?  Of course you wouldn’t.  And other than the facts that it’s against the law and that you’re a moral person, why wouldn’t you act on that thought?  The reason is simple:  The thought was just a thought---like the thousands of other thoughts that run through your mind every single day.  You realize it was just a thought and you promptly dismiss it.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t a little spooked or that you don’t care—of course you do.  But by dismissing the thought, you put the event behind you, opening the door for you to move into the present moment and be happy in this moment instead of caught up in a thought that is just a thought, like all other thoughts---including the thought of the baseball player dropping the ball.  Today, as we live our life, that event is merely a thought carried through time, via our own thinking As long as you see it, not as a reality to contend with, but as a simple thought, you are free to live right now, in this moment. Because thoughts are just thoughts (all of them) you have the power to drop any thought, at any time. You are absolutely in charge and have the last say!  This is the ultimate in taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.

Here’s a little more food for though.  Let me ask you a funny question.  Would you ever, even for a moment, consider writing yourself a nasty, mean-spirited letter and then mailing that letter to yourself?  Then, when you get the letter you open it and you’re immediately offended by the mean and obnoxious content!  You storm around the room and act all out of sorts!

Of course this would never happen in a million years, but why?  The reason is that you would be aware that it was you who wrote the letter.  How silly would it be to write a letter and then become upset by that very letter?

We’ll that’s the exact same logic we can apply to our thinking.  Think about it carefully.  Why would you ever have a thought—any thought, no matter how negative or scary—and then become nervous, reactive, angry or in some other way bothered by it?  Remember, it’s just a thought you’re having, just like all the others. And what’s more important, you’re the one who produced the thought to begin with. Being upset by your own thoughts is a little like smashing your head against a wall and wondering why your head hurts.  Remember, you wouldn’t act on a scary thought like killing another driver, no matter how bad he or she was—why?  Because it was just a thought.  The secret to a happy life is to realize that all of our thoughts are just thoughts.  True; things happen all the time, but once they are over---or if they haven’t happened yet, they are just thoughts.  Before I close, take one last look at that ball player who dropped the ball.  Regardless of how high the stakes were, it’s now, today, right now, nothing more than a thought---no more or less important than any others!  Try applying this logic to all of the thoughts that run through your mind and, pretty soon, you’ll be dropping any negativity you’ve been burdening yourself with---and what you’ll be left with is, you’ve got it---happiness!!

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff:
The Happiness Moment

By Richard Carlson


The traditional view of happiness is that it occurs during “special moments” such as birthday’s, weddings, promotions, anniversaries, and so forth. And while these are occasions to celebrate, I would argue that a happy person is one who learns to celebrate the small things in life. It’s the person who learns to look around in awe at the wonder of the world who is truly blessed. 

I have a dear friend who recently found out that one of her children has breast cancer. Most of us can only imagine the highs and lows she has been living through. She was crying as she told me her story – how she was confronted with losing her daughter and best friend. Then she told me something quite remarkable and inspiring. One night as she drove home, she was in one of the worst moods she ever remembers being in. There was snow on the ground, and her car was slipping to the sides of the road. As she attempted to steer her car clear of harm, she noticed the full moon. It was so beautiful, almost mythical. She pulled over for a moment and watched the magic of nature doing its thing -- the snow in the trees and on the ground. And that huge, beautiful moon beaming down, provided all the necessary, natural light to see the peace in presence and a form of serenity found in a moment of danger.

Despite the real life crisis my friend was intimately involved in, she was experiencing a “happiness moment;” one of those moments that makes life worth living. That moment alone had the effect of taking my friend out of her head long enough to see the beauty and wonder of the world. What she told me was that, “while the moment didn’t last very long, it had the effect of deepening my perspective for the rest of the evening.” She realized that happiness moments are all around us, all the time -- only most of the time we fail to recognize or notice them.

The life practice is to notice more and more of these simple moments throughout the day. The act of doing so extends these moments and makes them seem more “normal.” When a person begins to recognize happiness moments, their “ordinary life” becomes much richer, happier, full of gratitude, and yes, even more “extraordinary.”  Recently I had an unexpected “happiness moment” of my own. Ironically, it occurred during an evening that looked like it was going to be one of the worst nights I had in a very long time. My younger daughter was loaded down with what seemed to both of us with a ridiculous amount of homework. By the time she returned from soccer practice, there it sat, waiting for her—a good four hours worth. After spending the bulk of her evening doing homework (she’s only 11 years old), she become (understandably) frustrated. But, instead of listening, as I should of, I launched into an inappropriate lecture. She stormed off, mad as can be, slammed her door and went to sleep, crying.  I felt terrible, like I had failed her that night. So I went into her room to comfort her the best I could and to apologize. And while she was already asleep, I simply put my arm around her and said I was sorry (which I really was). I told her how grateful I was to have her as a daughter and how proud I was to be her dad. For about a half an hour or so I held her before I fell asleep on the floor next to her bed.

Prior to falling asleep, I don’t think I remember having too many happier moments. Sure I blew it that evening—big time. But it led to something so much bigger and more important—a recognition of my deep appreciation of my daughter and her sister and how lucky I really was to be their dad. I lied there in almost total bliss, marveling in the magic of life before drifting off to sleep. It was an unexpected, but wonderful happiness moment. 

Happiness moments come in many different forms. They might be something as simple as paying attention to children laughing or pausing to watch a sunset. Or, it might be something like changing your perception of traffic---instead of dreading it so much---to valuing the privacy and quiet time alone, perhaps as a place to practice deep breathing. Happiness moments can be special conversations you have with your son or daughter, mom or dad, or a special friend. It can be a special moment in nature, looking a beautiful piece of art, or pausing after reading a wonderful paragraph in a favorite book. It can be anything that brings you joy. And the wonderful thing about happiness moments is that the more you start to notice them, the more they start to show up in your life—leading you to a more joyful existence.

Happy moments can also come about each time you do something nice for someone else—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant----picking up the trash in their yard, embracing a new student, lending a hand, volunteering, donating some money, or being friendly at the checkout stand.

Conversely, happiness moments can occur each time you avoid a negative act such as following a negative train of thought, blaming someone else for your unhappiness, spreading a rumor. You’ll notice, if you pay attention, that each time you avoid these (and hundreds of things like them) that you’ll feel a moment of joy. And as you pay attention to that joy, that feeling will grow. When our kids were little, we had a little ritual we did every night. We would go around the dinner table and ask one another, “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” What we were doing, without even knowing it, was training ourselves to look for the good in life. Sometimes it was a stretch to find something “good,” but I can’t remember a single night that any of us couldn’t think of at least something to say that was positive.

Life can be easy, at times, while other times, it can be nearly unbearable, and we can let the pain in life overtake us. But even in the midst of despair, there are moments, if noticed, that make life not only bearable and worth living, but truly magical.

Bouncing Back

By Kristine Carlson


It is often our expectations and thoughts about what we think should happen that create our suffering.  Life is rarely what we expect it to be. Sometimes, it’s better than we expect. Other times, it just is as it is. The key is to learn how to bounce.

Adopting the attitude that there is no real failure in life except for giving up, gets you a bigger bounce. Life may seem uncertain at times, but some day you will connect the dots, like dominos in a row, and see there was a carefully orchestrated plan.  The advantage of knowing this is that you can keep the bounce in your step as you move forward with enthusiasm.

We will certainly fall down as children.  An important aspect of learning includes getting back up and on our feet quickly.  The same is true for our moods and happiness or anything else that might be considered a stumbling block. My late husband, Richard Carlson says: “ The goal is to be graceful when low and grateful when high.”  It’s not that we won’t have low moods or slumps in business and relationships; we will.  It’s how quickly we can “bounce!” It’s about shortening the distance between two points and seeing it all as temporary and getting back to a place of calm resolve more quickly. From this centered place, we can make decisions and choose our actions by responding to life versus reacting from fear. From this place, we can bounce forward with resiliency and grace!

2. Expecting less and having more  

Set your expectations to zero, show up at 110% every day, and your positive attitude will drive your 110% experience of life.

Moreover, you won’t be depleting precious mental energy by beating yourself and others up because you’re disappointed and angry at not having your expectations met.

Having lower expectations does not mean that you don’t “go for it,” establish goals, or have visionary dreams. Setting your expectations to zero means that you are able to minimize your emotional setbacks that deplete and drain your vision of valuable energy. When you’re able to establish high intentionality but at the same time “let go,” accepting the outcome as it is, you can rise from any fall, thus increasing your personal power of resiliency. When you give it your best shot and you miss, it’s not seen as a failure. Instead, it’s just another opportunity to step up to the plate and do it better next time.

When your child tries out for an activity and doesn’t make the “A” list, then you encourage him or her by saying: “It’s ok. Practice more; enjoy what you’re doing, and try, try, try again.” Life as an adult is no different.The game of life is like a sport; it takes practice.  Giving it your best shot, and accepting the end result without engaging in negative thoughts that lead you to a downward spiral is the practice. On playing fields, this is called good sportsmanship. In life, it’s called having a winning attitude.

3. What lights your fire?

Are you tired of being tired? When you’re feeling low, exhausted and uninspired, it’s time for you to consider what is going to light your fire.  In the same way a candle has a wick and the wick burns with oxygen you need to fan your own flame with inspiration.  Inspired means “an extraordinary quality surpassing brilliance that comes from an outside creative impulse and is exhibited through your activities.”  For example: the inspired gardener, painter, postal worker, Mother, Father, or artist or whatever.  

Getting oxygen is easy when you remember to breathe.  That’s right: Breathe!  The one thing that really lit people do is start their day with an inspirational practice.  This is about ten to twenty minutes of “me” time designed by the one and only you.  How you start your day is how you live your day.  Could be a gratitude journal, inspirational reading, soft music, a little meditation and yoga with your green tea or coffee?  Anything that sparks your enthusiasm.  

Ask yourself some key questions:  What are you passionate about?  What have you given up in your adult life to be something that no longer fits you like a suit you’ve outgrown?  How can you bring more of ‘that’ back into your life in small ways every day?  Perhaps, instead of asking ‘what’s next’ you can ask ‘how can I serve?’  You will shine brighter if you remember what lights your fire and brings you joy.


Listening to the Language of Your Heart

By Kristine Carlson


If there is one thing I am certain of, it’s that our thinking can get in the way of our happiness.

Rather than be a receptor and transmitter for our instincts and intuitive knowing to flow through us, like the hardware of our computer mainframe that translates the information from our software, our thinking habits can muddle and confuse us—especially when it comes to matters of the heart. When you are concerned with figuring out your life plan and your passion, the subtle heart language can become drowned out by the brass band that plays in the mind. Until the frenetic activity of our busy, worrying mind is quelled, we cannot hear the whisper of the heart that says, “I know what’s right for you.”  It takes practice to get back to the stillness within that allows the heart to be heard.

Often buried under a mountain of expectation, fear, and outdated beliefs, our heart intelligence yearns to be heard. There are three ways, which I have identified for myself, that clear the pathway from my heart to my head. These methods allow me to receive the clear direction and intelligence of my knowing heart that speaks to me through my instincts and intuition.

1. Feel to Heal

Give yourself permission to feel your life fully and completely. Your feelings are trying to tell you something. We live in a culture that does not encourage us to feel but instead to numb out to our feelings. Our feelings are our best navigational tool to direct us and even tell us how our thoughts may be getting in the way of allowing us to be truly free and happy. I encourage people to express their emotions so that they can empty out what’s there and be filled with new ones like joy and bliss. In my experience of moving through grief, my connection to my heart felt free and easy after I let go and cried, screamed, danced, or laughed hysterically. My body would tell me what I needed, and any expression of my emotions liberated me. As I expressed and emptied, I would be filled with peace and stillness, and as Rumi said, “In the stillness is the voice you long to hear.”

2. Practice Peace

Peace is cultivated from inside. We must tend to our inner sense of equanimity, like the stirring of slow burning embers in a fire. I recommend an early morning inspirational ritual. How you start your day is how you live your day. Breathe deeply. Live inspired first thing in the morning. Find that sanctuary inside and visit it often, and, even amidst chaos, you will find PEACE. Breathe. In this still place, the brass band is quieted, and your heart is playing your song like a finely tuned symphony.

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

So you can experience the big joy and magic of your life. If you are focused on the small stuff of life (the minor annoyances and pettiness of small circumstances that happen each day, then chances are you are all but missing the big stuff life has to offer you in joy and gratitude. If you place a red dot on a blank page representing the one thing that went wrong in your day or something someone said that bothered you, and you are focused purely on that dot all day long and into the night and perhaps the next day, well, life is actually happening in the white space of the page. To refocus your attention, ask yourself the question: Will this matter a year from now? If the answer is no, then you are dealing with small stuff. Keeping life in perspective helps establish a stronger connection to the heart.

As you feel to heal, practice the art of inner peace and learn to let go of what doesn’t serve you any longer, and you stop sweating the small stuff, you will be better able to tame the monkey mind and tune into your heart language. Your heart holds the key to unlocking the door to your passionate bliss, and all you have to do is learn to listen.


Don't Sweat the Small Stuff:
Fill Your Life With Love

By Richard Carlson

Question to Richard: I find it pretty easy to be kind to others, but I’m brutal on myself—any easy suggestions?

Response: I’ve yet to meet a single person who didn’t want a life filled with love.  This is impossible, however, without first loving oneself.  We must start from within and then move outward.

Obviously, the shortest distance between two points is an intention and this is certainly the case when it comes to becoming more loving to oneself and to others.  We must first have the desire and then the intention and commitment to be a source of love---this means that rather than waiting for the world to be more loving, we decide that we will be the first one to reach out and act loving—no matter what!  This choice will almost always bring us closer to our goal.  The reason:  people respond very well to the feelings of love being sent in their direction and their tendency is to act in kind.

The next time you are frustrated by what you perceive as a lack of love in your life, take matters into your own hands.  Forget about all the problems with others and with the world for a while and, instead, look into your own heart.  Ask yourself, “Is there any way I can become even more loving than I am----can I fill my heart with more loving kindness?”  Can you, despite the fact that there are less than perfect people in our world, think loving thoughts about yourself and about others?  Spread that love around as far as your mind will allow.  Even if you feel someone “doesn’t deserve” your love, try to empty that thought from your mind and send them love anyway.  Just as hatred and hostility can only produce additional hatred and hostility, it’s equally true that loving-kindness produces only one thing—more loving-kindness.

It’s ironic, but also pretty obvious that the more love you spread, the more love there is that will be coming back toward you.  After all, you can’t control what comes at you, but you sure have total control about what types of thoughts, words, actions and beliefs you send out into the world.  You will, in a very real way, discover one of the greatest secrets in the world—that love is it’s own reward.  The more you dish out, the more comes back to you.  In a very short amount of time, you’ll have more love in your life than you ever thought possible.   And when that becomes true, just keep sending love as often as you can!  For more ideas on making your life even better, go to Good luck.